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Full nameBorn as Drauni
TitleNext Vyasa
WeaponBow and Arrow, Sword
FamilyDronacharya (father)
Kripi (mother)
RelativesKripacharya (maternal uncle)
Bharadwaja (grandfather)

In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, Ashwatthama (Sanskrit: Aśvatthāmā) or Drauni is the son of guru Drona and Kripi (sister of Kripacharya) and a pivotal character in the Mahabharata. The grandson of the sage Bharadwaja, Ashwatthama ruled the northern region of Panchala with Ahichhatra as his capital, being subordinate to the rulers of Hastinapura. He was a Maharathi[1] who fought on the Kaurava side against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War. He became a Chiranjivi (immortal) on being blessed by Shiva.


According to The Mahabharata, Ashwatthama means "the sacred voice which relates to that of a horse".[2] It is so-called because when he was born he cried like a horse.[3]

Some of the patryomics are Dronaputra-He was referred to as "Dronaputra" as he was son of Dronacharya, Guruputra-Kauravas and Pandavas used to call him "Guruputra" as he was their guru's son and Kripi Kumara-His mother's name was Kripi.

Birth and life prior to the war[edit]

Ashwatthama is the son of Drona and Kripi. He was born in a cave in a forest (in present-day Tapkeshwar Mahadev Temple, Dehradun, Uttarakhand). Drona performed many years of severe penance to please Lord Shiva in order to obtain a son who possesses the same valiance as Lord Shiva.

Ashwatthama is born with a divine gem on his forehead which gives him power over all living beings lower than humans; it protects him from hunger, thirst, fatigue, old age and all sorts of diseases, weapons and deities. The powerful gem almost makes Ashwatthama invincible and immortal. Though an expert in warfare, Drona lives a simple life, with little money or property. As a result, Ashwatthama has a difficult childhood, with his family unable to even afford milk. Wanting to provide a better life for his family, Drona goes to the Panchal Kingdom to seek aid from his former classmate and friend, Drupada. However, Drupada rebukes the friendship, claiming a king and a beggar cannot be friends, humiliating Drona.

After this incident, and seeing the plight of Drona, Kripa invites Drona to Hastinapur. Thus, Drona becomes the guru of both the Pandavas and Kauravas. Ashwatthama is trained in the art of warfare along with them.[1]

During his time with the princes, Duryodhana had observed Ashwatthama's fondness of horse and gifted the young brahman a well-bred horse. In exchange, Duryodhana gained the personal allegiance of Ashwatthama to himself, and by extension the Kauravas, in addition to Drona's duty-bound allegiance to Hastinapura.

Later, Drona asked his disciples to give him his Dakṣiṇā; requesting the capture of Drupada. While the Kauravas failed, the Pandavas defeated Drupada and presented him before Drona. Drona took the northern half of Drupada's kingdom, crowning Ashwatthama as king of it. Ahichhatra was Ashwatthama’s capital.

Role in the Kurukshetra war[edit]

Since Hastinapura, ruled by King Dhritarashtra, offered Drona the privilege of teaching the Kuru princes, both Drona and Ashwatthama are loyal to Hastinapur and fight for the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. Before Dronacharya's death, Ashwatthama visits his father, desiring a blessing of victory that he is denied. Drona advises Ashwatthama to win the war using his own strength and not through a blessing.

On the 14th day of the war, he kills a division of Rakshasas including Anjanaparvan (the powerful son of Ghatotkacha) and defeats Ghatotkacha as well breaking all his illusions but fails to kill the powerful demon. He also stands against Arjuna several times, trying to prevent him from reaching Jayadratha, though is unsuccessful. However during the entire process of protecting Jayadratha, Ashwatthama at one point of time successfully saves Duryodhana's divine celestial armour and life by using his Sarvastra arrow and destroying the powerful Manavastra arrow launched by an angry Arjuna towards Duryodhana mid-way.

Death of Drona[edit]

Bhima kills an elephant named Ashwatthama. Folio from Razmnama.

On the 10th day of the war, after Bhishma falls, Drona is named the supreme commander of the armies. He promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthira, but then he repeatedly fails to do so. Duryodhana taunts and insults him, which greatly angers Ashwatthama, causing friction between Ashwatthama and Duryodhana. Krishna knows that it was not possible to defeat an armed Drona. So, Krishna suggests to Yudhishthira and the other Pandavas, that if Drona were convinced that his son was killed on the battlefield, then his grief would leave him vulnerable to attack.

Krishna hatches a plan for Bhima to kill an elephant by the name Ashwatthama while claiming to Drona it was Drona's son who was dead. Ultimately, the gambit works (though the details of it vary depending on the version of the Mahabharata), and Dhrishtadyumna beheads the grieving sage.

Narayanastra usage[edit]

After learning of the deceptive way his father was killed, Ashwatthama becomes filled with wrath and invokes the Narayanastra, against the Pandavas.

When the weapon is invoked, violent winds begin to blow, peals of thunder are heard, and an arrow appears for every Pandava soldier. Knowing that the astra ignores unarmed persons, Krishna instructs all the troops to abandon their chariots, disarm, and surrender to the weapon. After getting their soldiers to disarm (including Bhima with some difficulty), the astra passes by harmlessly. When urged by Duryodhana to use the weapon again, desirous of victory, Ashwatthama sadly responds that if the weapon is used again, it will turn on its user.

In some versions of the story, like the Neelakantha Chaturdhara compilation, the Narayanastra destroys one Akshauhini of the Pandava army completely. However after the use of Narayanastra, a terrible war between both armies takes place. Seeing his Narayanastra fail to kill the Pandavas enraged Kripi Kumara stays resolute on his chariot, he touches water and invokes the Agneyastra and launches that blazing shaft in its superior form with the help of Mantras towards all his visible and invisible foes on all sides. The powerful weapon soon overpowers and encompasses Arjuna with several fiery flaming arrows and starts creating havoc within the Pandava army, upon witnessing this sight and realising the seriousness of situation, Arjuna uses his Brahmastra to subdue the powerful Agneyastra of Ashwatthama but the Agneyastra by then already destroyed and burnt another complete Akshauhini of the Pandava army, only Arjuna and Krishna survives that devastating attack which shocks Ashwatthama deeply as he leaves the battlefield with confusion and doubt on his knowledge and skills. Later Ashwatthama defeats Dhrishtadyumna in direct combat, but failed to kill him as Satyaki and Bhima cover his retreat in the process both Bhima and Satyaki engages in a battle against Ashwatthama, furious Kripi Kumara defeats both the warriors and makes them retreat from the battlefield as well.[4]

16th Day War[edit]

By using an ordinary yet powerful bow Ashwatthama fire millions of arrows at a time which results in the stupefaction of Arjuna himself. Then after some time Ashwatthama again overpowers Arjuna as he bathes in blood, but at last Arjuna with no other option pierce his steeds and the wounded steeds carries Ashwatthama away from Arjuna and also his weapons gets exhausted. King Malayadhwaja of Pandya Kingdom, one of the mightiest warrior of Pandavas fights brilliantly against Ashwatthama. After a long duel of Archery between them Ashwatthama makes Malayadhwaja carless, weaponless and obtains an opportunity to kill him on the spot but he spares him temporarily for more fight.Then Malayadhwaja proceeds against Ashwatthama on an elephant and throws a powerful lance which destroys latter's diadem.Then Ashwathama cut off the head and arms of Malayadhwaja and also kills 6 followers of Malayadhwaja. Seeing this all the great warriors of Kauravas starts applauding Ashwatthama for his act.[5]

Becoming commander[edit]

After the terrible death of Dushasana, Ashwatthama suggests Duryodhana make peace with the Pandavas, keeping in mind the welfare of Hastinapur. Later, after Duryodhana is struck down by Bhima and facing death, the last three survivors from the Kaurava side, Ashwatthama, Kripa, and Kritvarma rush to his side. Ashwatthama swears to bring Duryodhana revenge, and Duryodhana appoints him as the commander-in-chief after Shalya was slain earlier during the day.

Attack on Pandava Camp[edit]

Along with Kripa and Kritavarma, Ashwatthama plans to attack the Pandavas camp at night. When Ashwatthama reaches there he encounters Lord Shiva in a terrifying ghost form guarding the Pandavas camp. Not recognising him, Ashwatthama fearlessly starts attacking the terrifying ghost with all his powerful weapons but failed to inflict even a single damage upon it, after which Ashwatthama starts meditating on Lord Shiva while sitting inside a pit of fire, which finally impresses him after which Lord Shiva appears in his true form infront of Ashwatthama and offers him a divine sword. Then Lord Shiva himself enters the body of Ashwatthama making him completely unstoppable.

After that Ashwatthama enters the camp, he first kicks and awakens Dhrishtadyumna, the commander of the Pandava army and the killer of his father.[6] Ashwatthama beats up and strangles the half-awake Dhrishtadyumna as the prince begs to be allowed to die with a sword in his hand ultimately choking him to death. Ashwatthama proceeds with butchering the remaining warriors, including Shikhandi, Yudhamanyu, Uttamaujas, and many other prominent warriors of the Pandava army. Even though many warriors try and fight back, Ashwatthama remains unharmed due to his activated abilities as one of the eleven Rudras. Those who try to flee from Ashwatthama's wrath are hacked down by Kripacharya and Kritavarma at the camp's entrances.

After the slaughter, the three warriors went to find Duryodhana. After relaying to him the deaths of all the Panchalas, they announce that the Pandavas have no sons with whom to rejoice their victory. Duryodhana felt greatly satisfied and avenged at Ashwatthama's ability to do for him what Bhishma, Drona, and Karna could not. With this, Duryodhana breathes his last, and mourning, the three remaining members of the Kaurava army perform the cremation rites.

Aftermath of the attack[edit]

Ashwattama was arrested and brought to Draupadi by Arjuna.

The Pandavas and Krishna who were away during the night, now return to their camp the next day morning. Hearing the news of these events Yudhishthira faints and the Pandavas become inconsolable. Bhima angrily rushes to kill Drona's son. They find him at sage Vyasa's ashram near the bank of Bhagiratha.

The now triggered Ashwatthama invokes the Brahmashirā against the Pandavas from a tiny blade of grass to fulfill the oath of killing them. Krishna asks Arjuna to fire the Brahmashirā as an anti-missile against Ashwatthama to defend themselves. Vyasa intervenes and prevents the destructive weapons from clashing against each other. He asks both Arjuna and Ashwatthama to take their weapons back. Arjuna, knowing how to do so takes it back.

Ashwatthama however directs the Brahmashirā towards the womb of the pregnant Uttara (Arjuna's daughter-in-law) instead in an attempt to end the lineage of the Pandavas.

Krishna saves Uttara's unborn child from the effects of the Brahmashirā, on request of Draupadi, Subhadra and Sudeshna. As the child faced a test of life even before being born, Lord Sri Krishna named him Parikshit (literally: "the tested one") and later on this child succeeds Yudhisthira to become the next king of Hastinapura. Ashwatthama was then made to surrender the gem on his forehead and cursed by Krishna for three thousand years that he will roam in the forests with blood and puss oozing out of his injuries and cry for death but death would not meet him.[7]


A theory is propounded by historians R. Sathianathaier and D. C. Sircar, with endorsements by Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund and Burton Stein.[8] Sircar points out that the family legends of the Pallavas speak of an ancestor descending from Ashwatthama and his union with a Naga princess. It was the son born from this union, that would have started this dynasty. This claim finds support in the fact that Kanchipuram was where the Pallavas would dwell, and this was earlier a part of the Naga Kingdom.

A further corroboration is that the gotra of the Pālave Maratha family is Bharadwaja (grandfather of Ashwatthama), same as the one which Pallavas have attributed to themselves in their records.[9]

There is a shrine for Ashwatthama in the famous Ananthapadmanabhaswamy temple of Thiruvanthapuram.

In popular culture[edit]


The Sapta Chiranjivi Stotram is a mantra that is featured in Hindu literature:

अश्वत्थामा बलिर्व्यासो हनुमांश्च विभीषण:।
कृप: परशुरामश्च सप्तैतै चिरजीविन:॥
सप्तैतान् संस्मरेन्नित्यं मार्कण्डेयमथाष्टमम्।
जीवेद्वर्षशतं सोपि सर्वव्याधिविवर्जितः॥

aśvatthāmā balirvyāsō hanumāṁśca vibhīṣaṇaḥ |
kṛpaḥ paraśurāmaśca saptaitē cirañjīvinaḥ ||
saptaitān saṁsmarēnnityaṁ mārkaṇḍēyamathāṣṭamam |

jīvēdvarṣaśataṁ prājñaḥ apamṛtyuvivarjitaḥ ||

— Sapta Chiranjivi Stotram

The mantra states that the remembrance of the eight immortals (Ashwatthama, Mahabali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Kripa, Parashurama, and Markandaya) offers one freedom from ailments and longevity.


  1. ^ a b "The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Uluka Dutagamana Parva: section CLXVIII". Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  2. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 7: Drona Parva: Drona-vadha Parva: Section CXCVII".
  3. ^ "Sanskrit –".
  4. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 7: Drona Parva: Drona-vadha Parva: Section CCI". Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  5. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva Index". Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  6. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 10: Sauptika Parva: Section 8".
  7. ^ Mythgyaan (16 October 2017). "Who is Ashwathama? Why he was cursed by Krishna? Is he still alive?". Mythgyaan. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  8. ^ Stein, Burton (2016). "Book Reviews: Kancipuram in Early South Indian History, by T. V. Mahalingam (Madras: Asia Publishing House, 1969), pp. vii-243". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 7 (2): 317–321. doi:10.1177/001946467000700208. ISSN 0019-4646. S2CID 144817627.: "...the rather well-argued and plausible stand that the Palavas were indigenous to the central Tamil plain, Tondaimandalam..."
  9. ^ Vaidya C. V. (1921). History Of Medieval Hindu India.

External links[edit]

Original text online (in Sanskrit)